Saunders: Of all schools, Stanford Law should know better

If you’re educating future lawyers, what does drowning out debate teach your students.

By Debra J. Saunders /

Watch the video that went viral of a March 9 exchange between a Stanford University administrator and conservative federal judge who had been invited to speak before the Stanford Federalist Society — only to be heckled and drowned out by students in the room.

Institutions of learning are supposed to turn out informed, capable graduates. Yet a cream law school apparently is intent on training future lawyers to shout, not think.

Tirien Steinbach, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion, shows the way. In the video, she expresses her devotion to free speech and her zeal not to silence dissenters, apparently oblivious to her role in squelching Kyle Duncan, a 5th Circuit appellate judge whom the Federalist Society had invited to speak at Stanford on “Covid, Guns and Twitter.”

When he was supposed to speak, she talked instead.

When he was supposed to speak, students shouted and chanted.

Stanford Law School: discourse optional.

Steinbach’s spoke of her need to feel “comfortable” and “safety.” As if law school is supposed to feel comfortable. Like a spa, really.

It’s sad to watch the lies the least accomplished academics tell themselves. “I want to give you space to finish your remarks,” Steinbach told Duncan, with no hint of irony.

Give someone “space” to talk? I’m not sure what that even meansl; but whatever it is, she didn’t do it.

My concern is: What happens to these students? Can they actually pass the bar and become lawyers? If so, do they defend clients by shouting over witnesses, judges and prosecutors? If they can’t brook dissent, how can they question their faulty assumptions?

Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez released a statement that noted, “the way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech.” Stanford is reviewing the incident, she added, and “will work to ensure protocols are in place so that disruptions of this nature do not occur again.”

Good. The next move should be another letter; from Steinbach resigning. At the very least, she should publicly apologize for behavior not becoming an academic.

Instead, the Free Beacon reported, Monday The Stanford National Lawyers Guild complained Martinez threw “capable and compassionate administrators” under the bus, while like-minded organizations issued similar expressions of outrage; at the grown-ups.

It’s clear that Steinbach sees herself as a welcoming person, so much so that she encouraged students to prevent an invited guest from speaking. This episode suggests she is hopelessly undereducated about free speech and, really, given her concerns about her comfort level, too easily damaged to have a role in the education of future lawyers.

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Email her at Copyright 2023,

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